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Welfare Reform

When the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996—better known as welfare reform—became law 20 years ago this month, it threw legal aid practice into chaos, as attorneys scrambled to understand how it would affect their clients and how best to represent those clients and protect what remained of the social safety net. Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy was there through the whole transition, even dedicating the entire January–February 1997 issue to welfare reform. This collection compiles the welfare reform articles from the Review’s archives and gives an interesting look at how this one law has shaped the lives of many low-income families, even now, 20 years after welfare reform.

Twenty Years After Welfare Reform

Reflections and Recommendations from Those Who Were There

By Anne Erickson, Deborah Harris, John Bouman, Cindy Mann, Wendy Pollack, Margaret Stapleton, Mark Greenberg, Steve Savner, Gina Mannix, Marc Cohan, Olivia Golden, Kate Kahan, Elizabeth Lower-Basch, Jim Weill & Liz Schott

Twenty years have passed since Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and Pres. Bill Clinton signed this “welfare reform” into law in August 1996. Fifteen welfare-law experts who were engaged in the debates and implementation of welfare reform consider what we have learned in the past two decades, where we should go from here, and how we can get there to have the biggest effect on child poverty.

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An Introduction to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program

By Wendy Pollack

Created as part of the 1996 welfare law, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is the federally funded assistance program for low-income children and their families. States have broad discretion to design programs, often at the expense of federal protections for clients and accountability to clients and the public. Advocates need to assist TANF recipients on various legal issues. They must also urge states to make TANF a safety net and an opportunity for a better life for clients.

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The Welfare Advocate's Challenge

Fighting Historic Racism in the New Welfare System

By Henry A. Freedman

Race discrimination has a long history in government welfare programs. The 1996 welfare reform law expanded caseworker discretion, which can lead to disparate treatment of persons of color. Research shows that it has led to such treatment. While the 1996 reform eliminated the entitlement to welfare and recent court decisions have limited litigation under civil rights acts, there remain many viable antidiscrimination strategies, some of which advocates have yet to invent.

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An Overview of Transportation Issues Affecting the Welfare-to-Work Populations

The TRUC Program

By Michele Casey, Cynthea Geerdes & Valerie McWilliams

Access to private transportation has become essential for welfare to work recipients. The Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation created and developed a not-for-profit car dealership to assist welfare-to-work families with transportation needs.

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Welfare Reform: Rhetoric and Reality

By Audra Wilson

Clients and advocates know all too well the disparity between welfare programs' rhetoric and reality. The National Center on Poverty Law's Let's Get It Right! project seeks to highlight this discrepancy and thus minimize it. Three issues of particular concern are education and training programs, child care difficulties, and improper termination of benefits to which clients remain entitled

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Health Care for Low-Income Working Families After Welfare Reform

By Jocelyn Guyer

The "delinking" of welfare and Medicaid eligibility that was part of welfare reform in 1996 and the State Children's Health Insurance Program enacted by Congress in 1997 have combined to alter the advocacy landscape significantly. States now have broad flexibility to expand health coverage for both parents and children, and they have been somewhat successful in expanding coverage for children. Low-income working parents often lose coverage as they leave welfare, however, despite continuing Medicaid eligibility. States may be reluctant to promote expanded health coverage for low-income working families until doing so is recognized as a critical component of successful welfare reform.

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Welfare Reform and the College Option in California

Lessons Learned

By Diana Spatz, Jodie Berger & Tamu K. Hamed

Federal welfare reform limited education and training opportunities for parents on public assistance. As a result, perhaps the most significant impact of welfare reform has been to move greater numbers of parents from welfare to low-wage, dead-end jobs. Successful grass-roots and legal advocacy strategies have been used in California to protect access to postsecondary education under welfare reform. In the 2001–2002 reauthorization of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, legislation should be formulated to protect, improve, and encourage such access.

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Is Welfare Reform Right for Grandparents?

Structuring Welfare Reform to Accommodate the Needs of Older Adults in Families with Children

By John Bouman

Multigeneration low-income families are feeling the brunt of welfare reform. Although policymakers often do not consider seniors and children together in a larger notion of "family policy," public policies and implementation systems involving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other benefit programs can be variously adapted toward improving the lives of older adults in families with children.

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The Importance of Issues at the Intersection of Housing and Welfare Reform for Legal Services Work

By Barbara Sard

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 create new imperatives for legal services and intersect in ways requiring providers to broaden the focus of welfare rule enforcement to include policy advocacy. As benefits expire and families face welfare-to-work obligations, legal services advocates should consider the new housing law and the advocacy opportunities it opens on rent policies in federally assisted housing programs.

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Access to Medicaid Since the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act

By Claudia Schlosberg & Joel Ferber

Rules regarding who is eligible to receive Medicaid, how care is delivered, and how quality of care is monitored are being rewritten since the passage of the welfare law in 1996 and the Balanced Budget Act in 1997. This article explains how the pace and scope of change are virtually unprecedented and suggests ways for advocates to address the new barriers to Medicaid.

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State and Local Policies on Immigrants and Public Benefits

Responding to the 1996 Welfare Law

By Tanya Broder

This article gives an overview of state policies on immigrants and benefits that have developed since the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. It explores issues that immigrant communities confront as welfare policy "devolves" to the local level; it also describes strategies to ensure that immigrants and their families secure the benefits that they need.

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Implementation of the Food Stamp Provisions in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996

By Alison Goldberg & Carrie M. Lewis

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 makes significant changes in the federal Food Stamp Program. This article explains how the Act widens the gap between rich and poor and explores various tools advocates and states may use to ensure that unemployed childless adults and legal immigrants, who are among the most vulnerable populations, receive some assistance.

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Welfare Litigation Developments Since the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996

By Mary R. Mannix, Marc Cohan, Henry A. Freedman, Christopher Lamb & Jim Williams

Despite the elimination of federal statutory and regulatory protections that had been the basis for significant welfare litigation prior to the passage of the 1996 welfare act, litigation continues to be critical in halting unfair state welfare practices. This article reviews recent welfare litigation, including the notable success in the areas of discrimination against new state residents and abusive workfare policies.

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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

Assessments, Individual Responsibility Plans, and Work Activities

By Wendy Pollack

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 has produced new issues for which welfare applicants and recipients need legal representation. This article explains that reliance on traditional ways of delivering legal services alone will fail clients for a variety of reasons and presents an overview of agency responsibilities. It suggests strategies for ensuring long-term employability and a meaningful transition to work instead of simply eliminating welfare receipt.

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The Aftermath of Welfare Reform

SSI Childhood Disability

By Thomas Yates

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 provided a new statutory definition of disability for children claiming Supplemental Security Income benefits and directed the Social Security Administration to make changes in the way it evaluates childhood disability claims. This article describes the new childhood disability sequential evaluation and the redetermination and appeals process.

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The Family Violence Option of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996

Interpretation and Implementation

By Wendy Pollack & Martha F. Davis

The Family Violence Option of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, if properly implemented, can give states significant flexibility in addressing the needs of poor battered women. This article describes the option, its interpretation, and guidelines for successful implementation.

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Using the World Wide Web to Monitor Implementation of the Welfare Act

By Michelle Nicolet

Advocates interested in tracking implementation of the welfare act will find an array of relevant resources available on the Internet.

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Sizing Up the Welfare Act's Impact on Child Protection

By Mark Hardin

Families involved in the child protection system undoubtedly will feel the effects of the new welfare law. This article describes the new law's potential effects.

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Child Care in the Wake of the Federal Welfare Act

By Jo Ann C. Gong

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 eliminated, along with the guarantee to cash assistance, the guarantee to child care. The former child care programs have been replaced with a single Child Care and Development Block Grant.

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The Welfare Law and Its Effects on Medicaid Recipients

By The National Health Law Program, The National Center for Youth Law & The National Senior Citizens Law Center

Although, on paper, the new welfare law preserves entitlement to Medicaid, coverage for several groups of poor people will be dramatically affected by the law's implementation. This article analyzes the effect of the welfare law on Medicaid, in particular, how the law affects coverage of families with children, children in foster care and children with special needs, children with disabilities, and immigrants.

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The Family Law Implications of the 1996 Welfare Legislation

By Paula Roberts

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act of 1996 contains a number of provisions of importance to family law practitioners and their clients, in particular, changes with respect to paternity establishment and enforcement of child support orders that could be extremely helpful to those who need and want child support. For clients who rely on public assistance, these changes have added importance.

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Preserving Services for Immigrants

State and Local Implementation of the New Welfare and Immigration Laws

By The National Immigration Law Center

Immigrants are drastically affected by benefit restrictions imposed by the welfare act as well as the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. These restrictions reach well beyond the traditional welfare programs to other services, including supplemental security income and food stamps. This article discusses the many choices state and local governments face in implementing the new welfare and immigration laws.

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The Impact of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 on Food and Nutrition Programs

By Carrie M. Lewis

Although the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 maintains the Food Stamp Program as an entitlement, it cuts the program by over $27 billion over six years, restricts eligibility, and eliminates a number of recipient protections. The Act also cuts funding for several child nutrition programs, including the Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. This article reviews the major changes in nutrition programs, analyzes the potential impact of the changes, and suggests areas for advocacy.

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Legal Representation and Advocacy Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996

By Alan W. Houseman

As the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 makes drastic, fundamental changes in government programs affecting low-income persons, it has a critical effect on legal advocacy for the poor. This article sets out the framework for the advocacy that will be necessary to respond to developments and discusses what programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation can do to carry out their vital role in representing low-income clients in this new environment.

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Welcome to Procrustes' House

Welfare Reform and Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

By Faith Mullen

Recently enacted federal welfare reform legislation will make it more difficult for grandparents to obtain public benefits on behalf of the grandchildren in their care. This article addresses some of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act's provisions that are likely to have significant consequences for grandparents raising grandchildren.

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